By: Lydia Crawley
The Parsons Advocate
Representatives of the West Virginia Department of Transportation held an open house to discuss the ongoing Corridor H highway project, as well as to address community concerns at the District 8 Headquarters in Elkins. “There’s a lot of good people we have in Tucker County,” District 8 WVDOH Representative Tommy Collins said. “We have a good workforce in Tucker County. I think that’s what separates you from some of the other counties when it comes to the quality of your roads.”
Collins said that District 8 receives a total of $27 million for core maintenance of existing roads through what is called the Annual Fund. “Four million is going to Tucker County right now for the core maintenance issues,” Collins said.
Collins said there was also additional funds through other programs that benefit District 8 roads. “We have some other funding avenues as well,” Collins said. “We have what is called the Nonfederal Aid Others Program, which is also state funds. These are a little larger project, a little larger paving, a little larger slab projects, a little larger drainage projects. The district typically gets about $5 million and that gets divvied up between our counties and projects that are necessary.”
“Above that 32 million dollars is typically our Federal Aid Program,” Collins said. “This is now federal funds. Everything before was state funds. We typically look at another $5 million district wide. Again, that’s for the paving types of projects, those kinds of things, general maintenance stuff at a higher level.”
Collins said that the increase in work within Tucker County has been the result of federal funding allocated through area representatives. “You’ve seen a lot of paving over the past couple of years in Tucker County,” Collins said. “You’ve really seen a lot of paving in the past 10 years in Tucker County. The last couple of years, it’s important to know where that funding comes from. That basically has been your legislator, your Senator Smith. They’ve been real good to the Division of Highways with some additional funding straight out of their budget.” Collins said that 100% of core maintenance for Tucker County had been completed by the county. “What we asked the county to do, they did 100%,” Collins said. “That is something they really should be praised for.”
Collins also provided information on the amount of paving completed within the district.
“The district paving totals, so 192 miles of pavement the district paved last year,” Collins said. “That’s an extraordinary number. It wasn’t too long ago that a good number for a district was 20 or 30 miles. A lot of it is the effort that your local legislators and the governor put in to make the roads better. A lot of it was the folks in this district executing the plan that was put in front of them.”
Collins said the new direction the DOH’s effort will be heading in pertains to bridges in the area. “The theme for the 2022 through 2025 for the Division of Highways is going to be bridges and bridges and bridges,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of funding going towards the bridges, trying to get our national infrastructure and our state infrastructure up to speed.”
According to Collins, Tucker County currently has 67 bridges. Collins said a bridge is defined as being over 20 feet. “Corridor H is going to make that number a lot larger as soon as they come online, Collins said. “We have 102 under 20 structures. We probably have more than 120 under 20 structures. We need to get out and identify what these structures are…That’s one of the concentrations we are going to have.”
Collins said the Federal Infrastructure Jobs Act will be adding additional funding for existing bridges. According to Collins, there are lots of bridges that are classified as being in “Poor” condition. However, Collins stated that does not make it unsafe. “We have a lot of bridges that are in poor condition,” Collins said. “I do want to be clear that because a bridge is in poor condition does not make a bridge unsafe. Its been a system we have used for a long time to rate bridges. If you go back, we probably should just change the word because someone says poor it means I shouldn’t be on it. That’s not what it means, but it does mean its heading in that direction that it is going to need replaced. This will take care of a lot of those bridges.” Along with the bridge work, according to Collins, the federal bill has a stipulation for diversification of vehicles that will result in the construction of charging stations for electric vehicles.
The WVDOH District 8 also uses the SWAT system to address complaints. Collins said he personally reviews each SWAT call along with other high-ranking staff. “We only had 452 SWAT complaints this year,” Collins said. “It’s really low for us. We like to think that’s because we’re doing a better job out there. But on the other side, if we don’t hear your voices, we might be missing something. So, please, you won’t offend us by calling. We all review. Adam and I review every SWAT complaint that comes in.”
“We’re staffed quite well, but there are still opportunities,” Collins said. “If there are folks in your community that need a job, we’re looking to hire.”
Collins also emphasized that this year the DOH is focused on increasing Work Zone Safety in the area. In the past five years, a total of 1,794 work zone crashes occurred in West Virginia that culminated in 15 fatalities, 509 injuries and 1,270 reports of property damage. “It’s just found unacceptable to the Division of Highways and to our governor,” Collins said. “So, when its unacceptable, we’ve been asked to figure out how to stop this, figure out how to make things better.” Collins said the DOH will be issuing communications and engaging in outreach to the community. There will also be an increased in enforcement in work zones, according to Collins. “You’re going to see us reevaluate how we set up traffic patterns,” Collins said. “The minimum isn’t going to be good enough. We’re going to be looking at ways to improve that beyond what the minimum standards require.”
Collins said District 8 is seeking a variety of workers from CDL drivers, to entry construction inspector trainees, beginning level designers and office workers.
District 8 is comprised of Pendleton, Pocahontas, Tucker, and Randolph Counties. Each county had its own informational session.